Grandin’s advice for Australian live export industry

AVA Annual Conference, 28 May 2013,  Cairns Convention Centre.Livestock slaughter expert Temple Grandin has recommended abattoirs install video surveillance to reduce cruelty.

Grandin was in Cairns recently to address the AVA conference, and she told Bush Telegraph that Australia should have more power to monitor slaughter facilities abroad when engaged in live exports.

She said companies such as Cargill Incorporated and JBS have video in U.S. plants where footage can be accessed on the internet at any time.

Live export conditions remain topical, and ships to Egypt were recently suspended following the release of brutal slaughter footage by animal welfare activists.

AQIS-accredited veterinary surgeon Lloyd Reeve-Johnson said Grandin’s suggestion of web-cam based monitoring becomes realistic if one considers minimal public trust in the current system and its “repeated failures” to prevent major welfare issues.

“The initial reaction of many in the industry may be that her suggestion is unworkable or an unnecessary expense,” he said.

“If a sceptical public is ever to be convinced that live animal export is necessary for economic of other reasons, measures beyond the ordinary such as constant web-cam surveillance with independent expert oversight could benefit not only the welfare of millions of animals, but the trade itself.”

Reeve-Johnson said the same idea could be applied to shipboard conditions with intermittent satellite feeds of video footage and displays monitoring ammonia, temperatures, humidity and other variables to counter potential human selectivity in placement of sensors or reporting.

He added that the footage would “only supplement” the introduction of independent shipboard veterinary oversight who are not directly employed by exporters.

“The current situation where publicity by animal interest groups has become the motivating force for federal government regulation and the live export industry to consider change after public outcry at sequential lapses in management is not the way to manage an industry,” he said.

“Any measures that increase transparency, the welfare of animals and improve our agricultural producers’ economic outcomes should be seriously considered by a new breed of decision maker; open to considering all perspectives.”

Sue Foster from Vets Against Live Export (VALE) met with Grandin in Cairns and discussed live export issues.

“Dr Grandin says the only way to come close to improving standards is for full Australian oversight and management of facilities overseas … if this does not happen, acceptable standards will not be achieved,” she said.

Foster added that Grandin’s observations confirms that abuses occur when supervision is removed.

“This is a constant theme with respect to both handling and slaughter overseas and why even the best intermittent auditing will never be adequate,” she said.

“This is well illustrated by the shocking footage from Egypt where slaughter was supposed to be exemplary and thus exempt from ESCAS (Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System).

“That the situation reverted was evidenced by the shocking footage provided by an Egyptian veterinarian who dared to speak out and show the reality.”

Grandin also told media that despite the drawbacks, live exporting makes economic sense due to the high cost of shipping refrigerated meat; a claim disputed by Foster.

She said that though VALE does not comment on economic issues and analyses, it is important to note that Australia exports “massive amounts” of chilled meat to various parts of the world such as the Middle East and Indonesia.

When asked if mandatory video surveillance could assist the industry, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) told The Veterinarian they expect industry to meet the regulatory standards of the ESCAS.

“The specific measures put in place to safeguard the welfare of animals under ESCAS, and monitor the performance of their supply chain partners, is up to individual exporters and supply chain participants to consider,” the spokesperson said.

“While video cameras provide a means to assess staff compliance with company procedures, another way of achieving this is through staff training and supervision.

“The advantage of staff training and supervision is that supervisors can intervene earlier to ensure correct procedures are followed, whereas a camera cannot.”

The spokesperson added that DAFF supports “any actions” by exporters to ensure animal welfare in their supply chains, including activities such as training, improvements in facilities and supervision.

“ESCAS is the most significant reform the industry has seen and Australia is the only country out of over 100 exporting nations that requires specific animal welfare conditions for exported livestock,” the spokesperson said.

SAM WORRAD